Former GOP Rep. Defends Torture: Waterboarding Is Just "Scaring" Somebody (Updated With Video)

August 31, 2009 6:58 pm ET — Matt Finkelstein

Today on MSNBC, Chris Matthews hosted former Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) to discuss Vice President Dick Cheney's most recent defense of torture.  The conversation quickly turned into a debate over waterboarding, which Hunter promoted as an effective technique amounting to little more than "scaring" somebody:

HUNTER: What we're talking about is waterboarding.  Waterboarding.  That's what the vice president is talking about.  That's the "enhanced interrogation techniques" that the CIA used.  That's the technique where you make a terrorist feel or be afraid of the idea that he is going under water, when in fact you're not putting him under water.  But it does scare the heck out of him.  We waterboarded precisely three people.  Khaleid Sheik Mohammed, the guy that killed 3,000 people in New York, was the prime guy who got waterboarded.  And we pulled - we scared him.  That's all waterboarding is.  We scared him.  We waterboard, incidentally, hundreds of our own military personnel.  They waterboard themselves training to toughen themselves up. 

Of course, waterboarding is literally slow drowning or "controlled death."  But, as far as Hunter is concerned, it might as well be a snake in a can.  To support his case, Hunter repeatedly insisted that anything done to U.S. troops can't possibly be torture -- even if it is done precisely so they'll be prepared to withstand torture.  Matthews noted that it only takes "minimum intelligence" to pick apart Hunter's stance:

Congressman, even the most minimal intelligence should help you with this.  I don't know why you're not applying it because you have it.  Obviously, the service people know they're in training.  They're not going to be killed [...] Don't tell me that's the same thing.

I might also ask whether Hunter would be okay with another country waterboarding -- or "scaring" -- American detainees.

Wasserman Schultz added, "At the end of the day, the heinous crimes that these people committed, no one feels a bit sorry for them. But when it comes to making sure that our prisoners and our detainees in other countries get the treatment that we want to make sure that they get and that they are not tortured, we have to make sure none of our lawyers that give advice to our interrogators nor our interrogators are above the law."

Watch the whole exchange here:

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